Who Are the Most Expensive Living Female Artists?

These women artists are at the top of the auction charts.

Cecily Brown The Sleep Around and the Lost and Found (2014)
Photo: Jens Ziehe via Contemporary Fine Arts

While it’s no secret that the list of the most expensive artists at auction is heavily dominated by males, some female artists have nonetheless been gaining serious ground in recent years. With the help of the artnet Price Database team, artnet News crunched the numbers to find the latest crop of top-selling women in the field.

The list is fairly wide ranging, from blue-chip names like Yayoi Kusama to contemporary stars such as Cecily Brown. Read on for the complete list and the heights their works have hit at auction.

Yayoi Kusama, "The Obliteration Room," 2002 to present. Collection: Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia. Photograph: QAGOMA Photography. © Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama, “The Obliteration Room,” 2002 to present. Collection: Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, Australia. Photograph: QAGOMA Photography. © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of Hirshhorn.si.edu.

1. Yayoi Kusama
It looks like it will be another big year for Japanese artist—whose name is synonymous with her signature polka dots—as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, gears up for her major retrospective. The museum is expecting such a large influx that for the first time ever it has instituted free timed tickets and hired more than 120 additional volunteers. And Kusama continues to be a fixture at major auctions. The record for her work, set two years ago at Christie’s New York, for White No. 28, (1960) is $7.3 million.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #216 (1989). Courtesy Skarskedt Gallery, © Cindy Sherman.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled #216 (1989). Courtesy Skarskedt Gallery, © Cindy Sherman.

2. Cindy Sherman
Sherman’s experimentation with role play continues in her colorful, fantastical photographs, and buyers can’t seem to get enough. The record for Sherman was set two years ago at Christie’s New York, when a group of black and white Untitled Film Stills (1977), sold for $6.7 million at a Christie’s evening sale of postwar and contemporary art. To date, 17 of her works have fetched over $1 million each at auction.

Bridget Riley, First Study for Painting June 3, 1989 (1989). Courtesy of John Berggruen Gallery.

Bridget Riley, First Study for Painting June 3, 1989 (1989). Courtesy of John Berggruen Gallery.

3. Bridget Riley
As critic Robert Melville once put it: “No painter, dead or alive, has ever made us more aware of our eyes than Bridget Riley.” Her Op-Art paintings continue to dazzle critics and buyers alike. The top price of £4.3 million ($5.7 million) was set for the artist at Christie’s London this past June, when a gray 1966 work, titled Untitled (Diagonal Curve), exceeded the high end of the estimate. It is one of two Riley works to sell above $5 million at auction. To date, 15 of her paintings have commanded above $1 million each at auction.

Marlene Duman, The Teacher (Sub A)M (1987), private collection, © Marlene Dumas, Photo: Peter Cox, © 2015, ProLitteris, Zürich.

Marlene Dumas, The Teacher (Sub A)M (1987), private collection, © Marlene Dumas, Photo: Peter Cox, © 2015, ProLitteris, Zürich.

4. Marlene Dumas
It’s not hard to see why Dumas’ skillful and often haunting figurative paintings captivate huge audiences. The current auction high for the South African-born painter, who lives and works in Amsterdam, is $6.3 million, set at Sotheby’s London in July 2008, for The Visitor (1995). The Teacher (1987) (pictured above), holds the second-highest slot, having sold for £1.8 million ($3.3 million) at Christie’s London in 2005.

Cecily Brown The Sleep Around and the Lost and Found (2014) Photo: Jens Ziehe via Contemporary Fine Arts

Cecily Brown The Sleep Around and the Lost and Found (2014)

Photo: Jens Ziehe via Contemporary Fine Arts

5. Cecily Brown
The British artist’s masterful paintings frequently focus on animal or nature themes and present “a world that pulses with excesses and appetites,” according to a statement on the website of powerhouse Gagosian Gallery, which represents her. The highest price for one of her mesmerizing oil-on-canvas paintings is $1.6 million, paid for The Pyjama Game (1997-98), at Christie’s New York in May 2007.

Julie Mehretu, Excerpt citadel (2003) Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

Julie Mehretu, Excerpt citadel (2003) Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.

6. Julie Mehretu
Mehretu’s wild, often large scale works seem to suggest an architectural plan from outer space. The waiting list for one of her works is said to be quite lengthy, so buyers have eagerly snapped up works at auction when they become available. The current record is $4.6 million, more than two and a half times the high estimate, paid for Retopistics: A Renegade Excavation (2001) at Christie’s New York in May 2013. To date, 15 of her works have sold for more than $1 million each at auction.

Jenny Saville, Shift (1996-97) Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Jenny Saville, Shift (1996-97).
Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

7. Jennny Saville
Saville was first championed by British mega-collector Charles Saatchi and demand for her works has only gotten stronger as the rest of the world followed the discovery. Shift (1996-97) is the most expensive work sold at auction to date, garnering £6.8 million ($9 million) at Sotheby’s London this past year, when Chinese buyers Wang Wei and Liu Yiqian scooped it up.

Elizabeth Peyton, <i>Ben (Villa d' este)</i> (2002). Courtesy Christie's Images Ltd.

Elizabeth Peyton, Ben (Villa d’ este) (2002). Courtesy Christie’s Images Ltd.

8. Elizabeth Peyton
Peyton’s rock star status as an artist seems only further enhanced by the numerous celebrities—often musicians themselves—whose portraits she executes (.i.e Jarvis Cocker, David Bowie, Kurt Cobain). The auction high for one of her works is $1.7 million, paid for Ben (Villa d’Este) (2002), at Sotheby’s New York in May 2014. Her portait of Leonardo DiCaprio, Leonardo, February 2013 (2013), sold at Christie’s New York in May 2013, for just over $1 million, is the second highest work at auction.

Vija Celmins, <i>Burning Plane</i> (1965). Courtesy Sotheby's.

Vija Celmins, Burning Plane (1965). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

9. Vija Celmins
Celmins is famous for her photorealistic drawings of natural environments, especially ocean surfaces, as well as desert terrain. The record for one of her works at auction was set at Sotheby’s in 2014, when Burning Plane (1965) sold for $3.4 million, far higher than the $1.2 million high estimate.

Rosemarie Trockel, <i>Untitled (in 2 parts)</i> (1985-88). Courtesy Sotheby's.

Rosemarie Trockel, Untitled (in 2 parts) (1985-88). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

 

10. Rosemarie Trockel
The German conceptual artist’s work challenges standard notions of femininity and culture. Though the record price of $4.9 million was set at Sotheby’s two years ago, for Untitled (in 2 parts) (1985–88), Trockel also had a strong showing at contemporary specialist Loic Gouzer’s hybrid “Bound to Fail” sale this past spring, with Made in Western Germany, a 1987 work made of knitted wool, sold for $1.8 million, setting the second highest auction price for the artist to date.


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